Faces in the Dark

dostoevskyprison 

One of the finest short contemporary classics of Orthodox spiritual writing is Tito Colliander’s Way of the Ascetics. The following excerpt is from his “Chapter Thirteen: On Progress in Depth.”

THE external rudiments lead us now to the welfare that goes on in the depths. As when one peels an onion, one layer after another is removed, and the innermost core, out of which growth reaches up toward the light, lies revealed. There, in your own innermost chamber, you will glimpse the heavenly chamber, for they are one and the same, according to St. Isaac the Syrian.

When you strive now to enter your inmost depths, you will be aware, beside your own true face, of what St. Hesychius of Jerusalem calls the gloomy faces of thought’s [dark figures], but what St. Macarius of Egypt likens to a crawling serpent that has nestled there and wounded your soul’s most vital organ. If now you have slain this serpent, he says, you may pride yourself on your purity before God. But if you have not, bow humbly, as a needy sinner, and pray to God about all that lurks within you.

How can we make a beginning, then, we who have never penetrated into the heart? We stand outside, but let us knock with fasting and prayer, as the Lord commands when He says: Knock and it shall be opened unto you (Matthew 7:7). For to knock is to act. And if we stand fast in the word of the Lord, in poverty, in humility, in all that the injunctions of the Gospel require, and night and day hammer upon God’s spiritual door, then we shall be able to get what we seek. Whoever will escape darkness and captivity can walk out into freedom through that door. There he receives the disposition to spiritual freedom, and the possibility of reaching Christ, the heavenly King, says St. Macarius.

Coming to grips with the fact that, spirtually, the world is not “two-storey” or bifurcated into sacred and secular, is primarily an act of coming to grips with our own heart. It is in the heart that we find both the gate of paradise as well as the “gloomy dark faces.” And these things will not be found by contemplating the stars or thinking about a heaven that is somewhere else.

Listening recently to the newly-ordained Bishop Jonah, I noted the emphasis he placed on frequent confession. For it is particularly in this sacrament that, with time, patience and fearless honesty, we begin to see the outlines and contours of our heart. We can learn, through prayer, how to enter and remain in the heart (when confession becomes even yet more important) and to have an inward communion that is the gift of God dwelling in us.

I particularly appreciate Colliander’s last statement:

And if we stand fast in the word of the Lord, in poverty, in humility, in all that the injunctions of the Gospel require, and night and day hammer upon God’s spiritual door, then we shall be able to get what we seek. Whoever will escape darkness and captivity can walk out into freedom through that door. There he receives the disposition to spiritual freedom, and the possibility of reaching Christ, the heavenly King, says St. Macarius.

19 Responses to “Faces in the Dark”

  1. the student Says:

    I’m sorry to say that I’m one of those perusers that lurks in the dark and never says much on the various blogs I visit. This blog has been a constant for me and for which I am thankful. Pray for us Fr. Stephen. The full version of “The Way of the Ascetics” can be found on-line here – http://www.stvladimirs.ca/library/way-of-the-ascetics.html

  2. Raphael Says:

    Yes Father, and therein, all the treasures of heaven may be found, which neither moth, nor rust, destroy. Kyrie eleison and Kyrie eleison.

  3. Mary Says:

    Recently, reading in the forest, I could only manage a few paragraphs, so I closed the book, considering how my main work (my only work) is repentance and seeking communion with Christ. Outside of that nothing else has any meaning, not Church services, or Scripture, or books, or sermons, or my offerings, or any other work, not even prayer. In sin I remain insensible to those things, but in Christ everything reveals God’s goodness. As an example before me – St. Mary of Egypt. She fled into the desert with nothing but faith and repentance for her food, her garment, her teacher and came into true knowledge in communion with God. And as a strength and help – our Lord Himself, through my confessor who is willing to go beside me into the dark places.

  4. Lana Balach Says:

    Amen!
    Thank you! Again, I am left in awe and humbled…..
    To the Student….. thank you for the link for the full version. I was able to print it up but chapter 25 is missing.

  5. Stephen W Says:

    I have a feeling that I, as a sinner will be knocking up until my last breadth. How does one continue in prayer and fasting, while always feeling on the outside of this mystery? and how does one stay away from being results oriented? It seems that we must have some feeling that we are getting somewhere in order to continue but also do not want to approach God in a sentimental fashion. I apologize for the lack of clarity here. Great post!

  6. Benjamin Says:

    “Listening recently to the newly-ordained Bishop Jonah, I noted the emphasis he placed on frequent confession. For it is particularly in this sacrament that, with time, patience and fearless honesty, we begin to see the outlines and contours of our heart.”

    This is so true. It also lets us see ourselves in relation to our neighbor by humiliating the old self, and letting God work into our lives his new self.

  7. mic Says:

    Bless Father!

    i am curious, what is considered “frequent” Confession?

    Perhaps there is no set number, but what would you consider frequent for someone who partakes of the Gifts on a weekly basis?

    peace
    mic-

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    mic,

    Every month to 6 weeks, more often depending on circumstances. Your priest should direct you in this.

  9. Robert Says:

    Stephen W,

    I believe the answer lies in that as Christians the “result” is not an object or state of being, neither knowledge but it is the Living God Himself!

    In the Divine Liturgy these powerful words are proclaimed “For You are our sanctification.” He Is.

  10. mic Says:

    Thank you for your answer Fr.

    i ask because i have been taught 3-4 times a year is sufficient…but thinking about it, i am not even sure if that teaching was from our Priest, or from my sponsor.

    We have only one Priest in our Parish, and there are hundreds of congregants, perhaps it is for the sake of our blessed Priest that i was taught such a number.

  11. Raphael Says:

    Mary,

    When we stand united with the prophets in declaring that “the LORD is God in heaven above and in sheol below”, the confession of one becomes the confession of all.

    Kyrie eleison and Kyrie eleison.

  12. November In My Soul Says:

    So many times the serpent seeks our undoing.

    Is this emphasis on stripping away our layers to come to grips with our own heart becasue we are rotten creatures? Is the goal humility, to keep us in the correct relationship with our Creator? Where do we find the layer of us that has been transformed by Christ?

    I ask these questions in all sincerity.

  13. fatherstephen Says:

    I have never heard a story in the lives of the saints in which a saint quit repenting. Indeed, a broken and contrite heart is not the penalty for sin, but the correct state of our heart.

    Thus, in some ways, I would say it is the correct communion with our creator. But it is also true that the more we extend ourselves in love and in union with Christ, the more we also unite ourselves with Him in His Cross, which includes uniting ourselves with Him in His sacrifice for the sins of the world. Thus, you read not only of the saints repenting for their own sins, but in union with all sinners. It’s where love will take us.

  14. Raphael Says:

    There is much freedom in the Holy Cross, and Kyrie eleison.

  15. clary Says:

    “Listening recently to the newly-ordained Bishop Jonah, I noted the emphasis he placed on frequent confession. For it is particularly in this sacrament that, with time, patience and fearless honesty, we begin to see the outlines and contours of our heart.”

    I found this most interesting and enlightening, I guess that is why many of us don’t go as frequently. It is hard to face the reality that lies within compared to God’s perfection. At the same time I have to say that when I do go to confession I feel empowered to do better the next time around.

  16. Leah Paintin Says:

    Steven W. writes …”and how does one stay away from being results oriented?”

    To be “results oriented” in Holy Orthodoxy seems to be a contradiction, since the former is about task completion (or ticking something off of a list and perhaps considering the task then done) and the latter is about attaining the Holy Spirit and union with God or, in other words – life.

    To directly answer your question: live the Orthodox life in Christ as fully as is possible each day. Seek union with God and remember- Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Matt 6:34).

  17. Ioannis Freeman Says:

    “Whoever will escape darkness and captivity can walk out into freedom through that door. There he receives the disposition to spiritual freedom, and the possibility of reaching Christ, the heavenly King, says St. Macarius.”

    These last lines of the quote of Tito Colliander inspire me by emphasizing the cooperation of the human will to escae from darkness and captivity. Today, I pray with fellow Orthodox Christians, “Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.” So disposed, the freedom of exiting the door once, does not offer a panacea to unending bliss, as St. Macarius taught, but it is our only hope for freedom making verbiage about trust secondary to deeds of trust.

    May God hear my prayer for all of us today.

  18. BV Says:

    Father Stephen:

    I have a question about Jaroslav Pelikan for you. is there an appropriate venue to ask such a question (eg email, just post a comment)?

  19. Michael Says:

    As when one peels an onion Father!

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